“Chor Puran” was a light-hearted comedy pointing to serious flaws in our society

The title of the play is “Chor Puran”, which suggests a comedy of a light nature, promising a delightful evening of humour. Produced in the course of a theatre workshop conducted by Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts and presented at its auditorium recently, it lived up its promise. In a farcical tone, the play projects a bizarre, corrupt and decadent world through the eyes of a thief. We watch with bemused feelings the enactment of the life of a thief and the society which has shaped his outlook and forced him to take to this means of living. The high point of the production is that it does not try to preach moral lessons nor emphasise the anti-social role of a thief, but in a clever style compares the role of a thief to those who plunder the nation masquerading as its leaders. This contrast is used to heighten the comic element. In this atmosphere of rampant corruption and loot of public wealth, minor thieves are caught while those who appropriate public property go scot free.

Written by Vimal Kumar, the work is adapted, conceptualised and directed by Dilip Gupta. A writer who draws his themes from the prevailing antagonism in the contemporary society, Vimal is a senior journalist, a poet, short story writer and novelist. As a creative writer his aim is to expose those forces that are responsible for the inner rot of society. “Chor Puran”, published seven years ago, is a collection of short stories and poems with the central character of Chor running through them in different avatars. One of the stories from this collection was enacted by Arvind Gaur when the book was released. The National School of Drama showed interest in these stories and presented some in its Shruti programme before a select gathering of lovers of Hindi literature. However, the production under review is a major dramatic presentation of stories from Vimal’s book.

Dilip’s production tends to be disjointed at several places. He should have selected fewer stories with more dramatic and satirical edge. Similarly, less film songs should have been used to concentrate on the original content of the story. The use of film songs is a device of improvisation used by the director to make his production entertaining but in the process at places it distracts. Mention “Chor”, Habi Tanvir’s “Charan Das Chor” automatically comes to mind. A modern classic of Indian theatre based on a folk legend, Habib has used only major episodes from the life of a thief full of excitement and drama, contrasting the moral values of a thief and the ruling class with deep focus that the moral ethics of a thief has greater ethical and humanistic sweep. “Chor Puran” does not take inspiration from folk tales. It draws its theme from contemporary social decadence but its dominant tone is light-hearted.

The production starts with a chorus rendering songs in praise of the thief. It is sung in the style of parody. Then appear two characters — female and male — who act as Sutradhar, establishing a lively rapport with the audience. Then appears our ‘hero’ as a caricature. With an air of bravado, he declares he became a thief without going through any professional formal education. Like all human beings the thief also falls in love and writes long love letters to his beloved but he fails to win her over. Torn by his failure in love, he sings the film song “Jaane We Kaise Log The” in a style that is exaggerated and evokes laughter.

Gradually, the thief reconciles with his pangs of unrequited love and gets married. The director treats the thief’s nuptial night with a brilliant comic tough. The bride is ignorant of the ‘profession’ of the bridegroom and when he informs her of it, she faints but soon recovers and says, “How does is matter if my husband is a thief. After all I am the wife of a thief.” Here the film song “Suhag Raat” is sung in the form of a parody.

In the course of his odyssey, the thief has to confront a peculiar situation. A big private concern is recruiting guards with experience in thieving. The candidates are asked to submit experience certificates from a competent authority. His experience of getting the certificate is full of fun. While performing his ‘duty’, the thief intrudes into a royal palace and confronts a crippled king who is constantly harassed by his nagging wife. The intrusion of the thief provides the king an opportunity to escape. When he comes back after long years, he observes that the thief and the queen are having a good time and the courtiers too are happy to find an intruder as the ruler.

The performers exude a lot of energy and display spontaneity. Shivam Pathak effectively creates the caricature of a thief that evokes laughter. Himani Saxena as the wife of the thief and the queen, and Pawan Kumar Pandey in a variety of roles impress the audience.

Keywords: Chor Puran